Last week, a former coworker of mine, Regina, passed away from breast cancer. She was 34. I can’t say that we were especially close, but we were more than acquaintances. Friendly acquaintances, I guess. After I moved away from NYC, I saw her once when I visited and we exchanged Facebook messages as recently as a couple of years ago. By that time, I knew she had been diagnosed but was improving. She invited me to her walks and events, and I watched the “Rally for Regina” messages and photos pour in through Facebook. I got updates on her through our mutual friend every so often, but I had no idea that her condition had become so dire.
So when I got the email about her passing, I was surprised and sad. We tend to say typical things when someone dies: “She was kind.” “She had the biggest smile and the biggest heart.” “She was the life of the party.” “She would do anything for anyone.” But, really, Regina was all of those things. I can still hear her booming laugh and voice as clear as day, five years later. The tragedy of Regina’s passing didn’t truly hit me until this morning, when I read her obituary. I remembered that we were fellow Geminis, and bonded to some degree over that. But when I saw her birthdate, it came into focus — I am exactly one year and five days older than Regina. That’s how much more time I’ve been allotted.
Regina’s not the only person I’ve been remembering this week. My friend Ashley’s husband was suddenly and shockingly killed last year on July 30 when a tractor trailer driver fell asleep at the wheel, crossed two lanes of interstate traffic and the median and struck his truck while he was on his way to go fishing for the weekend. Jeremy was only 33.
Given those losses, I’ve had a sudden moment of clarity.
First, you should know that I throw the best pity parties. And I can wallow in my own woe with the best of them. Not always, never publicly and almost never to the point where anyone knows that but me. But it is my nature.
The truth is there’s no reason it couldn’t have been me in the truck or with the cancer diagnosis. I have been given extra years, so I better make good use of them. And I better not forget that lesson.
I went to a conference many years ago where the speaker said something I’ve always remembered:
“The next time I’m running and feel like stopping, I’m going to think of the man who has no legs and RUN.“
Well, the next time I’m too busy to stop and admire a spectacular sunset, I’m going to think of the people who can’t see and LOOK.
The next time I want dessert, I’m going to think about my mother, who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for nearly 50 years, and I’m going to SAVOR the cupcake.
The next time I have the opportunity to travel, I’m going to think of all those people who don’t have the means, and GO.
The next time I hear a beautiful symphony — whether its music, the cicadas and frogs singing in the trees or my family laughing together — I’m going to think of those people who can’t hear and LISTEN.
And the next time something in life has me down, I’m going to think of Regina and Jeremy, remember how lucky I am and LIVE.
Each moment is a gift. And there’s no day but today.